Tuesday, November 30, 2021


Talk to virtual Comview conference

As you well know, thanks to a long period of weak economic growth, we hadn’t made any progress in reducing the federal government’s debt arising from the global financial crisis of 2008-09 before the arrival of the huge budget deficits associated with our response to the pandemic. This has left us – and all the other advanced economies – with levels of public debt higher than anything we’ve known since the period after World War II.

Right now, the economy has yet to recover from the protracted lockdowns employed to deal with the Delta variant of the coronavirus, but the econocrats and most other economists are confident the economy will bounce back almost as strongly and quickly as it did following the end of the initial lockdowns last year. It’s important to remember that the strength of these bounce backs owes much to the huge government spending on the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, the temporary Job Seeker supplement and various other assistance programs designed to hold the economy together during the government-imposed lockdowns. The huge loss of household income occurring in a normal recession was thus avoided, leaving people well able to resume spending as soon as restrictions were eased. So there’s no reason to regret the huge increase in public debt. It’s important also to make sure your students understand that the government’s explicit spending decisions explain only part of the huge budget deficits incurred. Much of it is explained by the collapse in tax collections and increased number of people on unemployment benefits – that is, by the automatic operation of the budget’s “automatic stabilisers”. That, too, should be seen as a good thing.

In passing, be clear that, contrary to the “policy mix” of the past 30 years, where monetary policy was the primary instrument used for short-term management of demand, with fiscal policy playing a subsidiary role, fiscal policy has now returned to primacy. To quote this year’s budget papers: “with further support from monetary policy limited, fiscal policy will need to continue to play an active role in driving the unemployment rate lower”.

It’s obvious that budget deficits lead to increased government debt, and only a return to budget surpluses will produce a fall in the absolute level of debt. The underlying cash deficit for last financial year, 2020-21, was $134 billion, or 6.5 pc of GDP, well down on what was expected at the time of the budget in May. This left us with a net debt of $590 billion, or 28.6 pc of GDP. We’ll see the latest estimates of this and future years’ deficits and debt in the mid-year budget update in mid-December. But, though all the pandemic-related assistance measures were temporary, meaning the deficit should fall pretty sharply, all the projections we’ve seen to date show no likelihood of the budget returning to surplus in coming years, “on unchanged policies”.

So, how concerned should we be about our post-post-war record level of debt, and what can or should we be doing to reduce it? And what about the argument of the proponents of “modern monetary theory” who say we should be covering the budget deficit not by borrowing from the public but simply by printing money. And finally, what does the RBA’s resort to “quantitative easing” involve, and how does it relate to the MMT debate?

The changed attitude to public debt

 After the big increase in the federal government’s net debt following the Rudd government’s use of considerable fiscal stimulus to stop the global financial crisis of 2008 causing a severe recession, the government’s view was that, in accordance with the “medium-term fiscal strategy” instituted by the Howard government in 1996, the budget should be returned to surplus as soon as reasonably possible after the economy had recovered. The strategy was to “maintain a budget balance on average over the economic cycle”. That is, the budget would be in deficit during the weak years of the cycle, but this would be offset by surpluses during the strong years, leaving a balanced budget on average, and leaving no net addition to the public debt.

The Abbott government promised to quickly eliminate the debt but, instead, the net debt doubled in nominal terms in the period up to the arrival of the pandemic in early 2020. By then, weak economic growth meant it had taken the Coalition six years just to get the budget back to balance.

The (delayed) budget of October 2020 announced a radical change in the government’s medium-term fiscal strategy. It became to “focus on growing the economy in order to stabilise and then reduce gross and net debt as a share of GDP”. That is, there was no goal to get the budget back to surplus – and, hence, no goal to reduce the public debt in nominal (dollar) terms. Rather, the goal was simply to reduce the size of the debt relative to the size of the economy (nominal GDP). In the government’s oft-repeated slogan: “repair the budget by repairing the economy”.

One of the reasons the advanced economies’ recovery from the Great Recession was so weak was that many of them panicked when they saw how much debt they’d run up and, before their recoveries had properly taken hold, they began cutting government spending and increasing taxes in an effort to get their budgets back to balance. This policy of “austerity”, as its critics called it, proved counterproductive. It weakened their economies’ growth and thus limited their success in reducing budget deficits. This is why Treasurer Frydenberg has repeatedly sworn not to “pivot to austerity policies”.

In switching from using budget surpluses to reduce debt in absolute terms to using stronger economic growth to reduce debt in relative terms, the government is adopting a change in concern about public debt that has occurred among leading American academic economists, influenced by the advanced economies’ pre-pandemic experience of “secular stagnation” or being caught in a “low-growth trap”. Weak growth makes “fiscal consolidation” (spending cuts and tax increases) harder and unwise at a time when governments should probably be investing more to offset the weakness in business investment. At the same time, the low-growth trap has produced exceptionally low interest rates, meaning the cost of “servicing” (paying the interest on) the public debt is lower than ever.

The government (and Treasury Secretary Dr Steven Kennedy) have taken up the American academics’ simple formulation that, whatever its absolute size, a stable amount of public debt will fall as a proportion of GDP so long as nominal GDP is growing at an annual rate exceeding the average rate of interest on the debt. The interest rates on Australian government debt have been between 1 and 3 pc, whereas our nominal GDP should be growing on average by 4 to 5 pc [inflation of 2.5pc plus real growth of 2.5pc]. The wider the gap between GDP growth and interest rates, the greater the scope for modest continuing budget deficits while the debt still falls as a proportion of GDP.

Several points can be made to reinforce this argument for being less anxious about the size of our public debt. First, as I’m sure you understand (but need to explain to every year’s bunch of students), the financial constraints that make it reckless for an individual household to have ever-growing debt don’t apply to governments, particularly national governments. In practice, governments mainly roll-over their debts rather than repaying them.

Second, measured relative to GDP, Australia’s public debt remains about half the size of most other advanced economies’ debt. Third, according to calculations by Saul Eslake, our projected interest payments on the federal public debt will be about 1 pc of GDP over the medium term to 2032, much lower than we’ve been used to. In the late 1980s it was above 2.5 pc. That is, there was never a time when we needed to be less anxious about the interest burden.

Even so, some respected economists – such as Productivity Commission chair Michael Brennan and former Treasury secretary Dr Ken Henry – have expressed concern that this more relaxed attitude to debt is too risky. Henry worries that, without efforts to get the budget back to balance and surplus, we will have limited scope to make an adequate response to the next fiscal crisis. Brennan worries people will conclude that debt and deficit no long matter, that “we can afford the next and the next ‘one-off’ rise in debt”.

But the new, more relaxed attitude to debt and deficit has also been attacked from the other direction – that this attitude remains more worried about debt than it needs to be – by proponents of “modern monetary theory”.

Modern monetary theory

MMT is a school of economic thought that’s been around for some decades. Its great proponent in Australia has been Professor Bill Mitchell, of my alma mater, Newcastle University. But it’s had a great push from the best-selling book, The Deficit Myth, by American Professor Stephanie Kelton.

There is nothing new about MMT. As the syllabus says, national governments face a choice of whether the finance their deficits via borrowing from the public or via borrowing from the central bank – that is, covering the deficit with newly created money. As recently as the mid-1980s, early in the term of the Hawke-Keating government, Australia followed other advanced economies in introducing the rule that deficits must be fully funded by borrowing from the public. This was at a time when the advanced economies were still struggling to get inflation under control. And, since the decision about how budget deficits should be funded is one to be made by governments, central bankers argue that MMT is about fiscal policy, not monetary policy.

Even so, there is much truth to the contentions of MMT. Like everyone else, we have a fiat currency, issued by the government and not backed by a quantity of some valuable commodity such as gold. So, in principle, governments are free to decide how many dollars to create. The MMTers remind us that it’s strange for us to have an arrangement where the private banking system (the banks in total, not an individual bank) able to create money, but the government prohibiting itself from doing so.

MMT is also right in rejecting the monetarist notion that printing money is always inflationary – “too much money chasing too few goods”. As economists have long understood. It’s not how much money has been created that matters, it’s the command over “real resources” – land, labour and physical capital – that money buys. Inflation occurs only when the demand for real resources exceeds the supply of real resources. To demonstrate the point, since the GFC the central banks of America, Britain, Europe and Japan have created massive amounts of money, yet inflation rates have stayed low or fallen (until the recent disruptions to supply caused by the pandemic). Inflation has stayed low because the demand for real resources has remained low relative to the supply of real resources.

Inflation is a consequence of demand being stronger than supply. At least since the GFC, the developed world’s problem has been the weakness of demand relative to supply. This does much to explain the new-found attention to MMT. What can be done to strengthen demand? Why shouldn’t the government add to demand by spending on lots of worthy projects and just create the money to cover it? This is the great theoretical truth highlighted by MMT: for as long as demand is running behind supply, anything the government spends can add to demand without causing inflation.

So in theory, MMT is correct. The econocrats’ objection to it is practical rather than theoretical. If you tell our fallible politicians they can spend as much as they like without bothering to borrow until we reach the point where the “output gap” has been eliminated and aggregate demand is running in line with “potential” – that is, the economy has reached full employment of all real resources – how will you get them to resume covering their spending by borrowing once that point has been reached? Even before you reach that point, how will you get fallible politicians to worry about stopping government spending that wastes real resources when government spending seems like a free lunch? This is what explains RBA governor Dr Philip Lowe’s vehement rejection of MMT. He sees himself responsible for achieving non-inflationary growth. He doesn’t want a new system in which the politicians tell him how much money they want him to create.

Quantitative easing

Short-term interest rates in the US and the other major advanced economies had got to very low levels before the global financial crisis of 2008 precipitated the Great Recession of 2008-09. The US Federal Reserve needed to cut its policy interest rate (the Fed funds rate) a long way to apply sufficient monetary policy stimulus, but was already close to the “zero lower bound”. So it resorted to “unconventional measures”. It intervened directly into particular financial markets that had frozen to get them trading again, and extended its conventional measures, of only influencing short-term interest rates, to lowering longer-term interest rates further out along the maturity “yield curve”. This is “quantitative easing”. Similar to conventional monetary policy, you buy longer-dated second-hand bonds, which forces up their price and so reduces their “yield” (interest rate). Since government bonds set the “risk-free” base on which private sector lending rates are set, this lowers the rates paid by people borrowing for longer fixed-rate periods. The central bank pays for the bonds it buys simply by crediting the accounts of the banks it buys from. That is, it creates the money out of thin air. Once the Fed adopted QE it was soon joined by the Europeans, Brits and Japanese.

It’s not clear that QE does much to encourage borrowing for consumption of goods and services or for business investment, rather than borrowing to buy assets such as houses and shares. But it is clear that the extra outflow of created dollars lowers the country’s exchange rate relative to the currencies of other countries. This lower exchange rate does stimulate the economy of the country engaging in QE by improving the international price competitiveness of its export and import-competing industries. This, however, adds to the reasons the other big advanced economies lost little time in also resorting to QE: so that their exchange rates wouldn’t appreciate against the US dollar.

In principle, once their economies had recovered from the Great Recession the Fed and other big central banks should have stopped buying second-hand bonds and started selling the bonds they’d bought back into the market, thus pushing rates back up to where they had been. It didn’t really happen. Rather, interest rates were still exceptionally low when the pandemic arrived. The Fed and the others leapt into another round of QE.

In Australia, the success of our efforts to avoid being sucked into the Great Recession, and our policy interest rate being a fair bit higher than those of the major advanced economies, meant we didn’t engage in QE at that time. It seems clear that Lowe had his doubts about the effectiveness of QE. But once the severity of the pandemic became clear in late March last year, the RBA cut the cash rate to 0.25 pc (and, in November, to 0.10 pc) and engaged in QE. It guaranteed that it would buy as many bonds as needed to keep the yield on three-year government bonds at the same rate as the cash rate. This was design to assure the financial markets that the cash rate wouldn’t be increased for at least the next three years. This was intended to encourage people to take advantage of the low, emergency-level interest rates. It also had the effect of encouraging the banks to offer very low fixed-rate home loans.

From November 2020, the RBA also announced it would buy $100 billion worth of second-hand federal and state government bonds with maturities of five to 10 years, at the rate of $5 billion a week. This was intended to lower interest rates further out along the yield curve. When the $100 billion had been spent in February this year, the RBA announced it would spend a further $100 billion, although it later decided to cut the rate at which it was buying bonds to $4 billion a week. Early this November, the RBA decided to discontinue limiting to 0.1 pc the yield on the Australian government bond maturing in April 3024. This made it possible for the RBA to decide to increase the cash rate in 2023, even though its forecast still suggested no increase would be needed before 2024.

Purchases of $200 billion worth of second-hand bonds represent about 20 pc of the total stock of federal public debt, meaning the RBA’s purchases of second-hand bonds would be about as much as the government’s issue of new bonds to cover the huge budget deficits it’s been running since the arrival of the pandemic. As part of QE, the cost of the RBA’s bond purchases has been covered merely by creating money, of course. So, despite Lowe’s vehement rejection of the MMT argument that the government fund its deficits by creating money rather than borrowing from the public, his QE has achieved essentially the same effect. The government will have to pay the RBA interest on the bonds the central bank has bought – and in due course, redeem the bonds when their term expires – but, since the government owns its central bank, this will just be a book entry inside the federal public sector. But though you and I can say MMT and QE amount to the same thing, Lowe would insist they are very different. How? MMT means the decisions about how much money to create are made by the fallible politicians, QE leaves the decisions about money creation in the hands of the independent central bankers. So the MMT advocates have had a qualified win.


Monday, November 8, 2021

Interest rates definitely to rise - sometime, maybe

The geniuses in the financial markets – and they must be geniuses because they’re paid far more than we are – think next year will be an absolute ripper. Workers will be getting their first decent pay rise in six years or more. Say, 3 to 4 per cent. Whoopee. Gee, thanks guys.

Find that hard to believe? So do I. It’s the logical implication of the bets they’re making that the Reserve Bank will begin lifting its official interest rate – which has been at almost zero for a year – by the middle of next year and be up to 1 or 1.25 per cent by the end of next year.

For that to happen, the underlying or core rate of inflation, which has been below the bottom of the Reserve’s 2 to 3 per cent target for years and only just a few weeks ago lifted its head to 2.1 per cent, would need to have shot up close to 3 per cent.

And, because the inflation rate doesn’t rise sustainably unless it’s being driven up by rising wages, an inflation rate approaching 3 per cent couldn’t happen without annual pay rises averaging 3 to 4 per cent.

Reserve Bank governor Dr Philip Lowe has spelt out this relationship between inflation, wages and interest rates almost every time he’s opened his mouth since even before the arrival of the pandemic. He did so again twice last Tuesday and once on Friday.

So pay rises of unheard-of size are the logical implication of the money market’s bets that the Reserve is about to become so desperately worried about soaring wages that it will have raised the official interest rate four or five times in the next 12 months.

Trouble is, I doubt the financial market players are thinking logically. I doubt they’ve thought it through to the extent I just described. The economists who work in the financial markets are well-educated, but this episode makes me wonder whether the guys laying bets in the dealing room even have wages in their mental model of what drives inflation and interest rates.

By the way, I’m not just being disparaging in describing the financial markets as a casino. As Professor John Kay explained in his book Other People’s Money, the buying and selling of currencies, bonds and other real and derivative securities each day in the world’s financial market dwarfs the number of transactions needed by real businesses to conduct their ordinary affairs.

Indeed, Kay told me those genuinely necessary transactions could be put through in about a quarter of an hour a week. So, what are all the remaining transactions? They’re dealers using their bank’s money to trade with dealers from other banks in the hope of making a quick million or two and a fat bonus at the end of the year.

I’m sure these professional gamblers are better at playing poker than you or I would be, but they aren’t trained economists, and they don’t think like economists. Certainly, not like central bank governors.

Because Wall Street has the greatest single influence over what happens in the global financial markets, these guys know more about what’s happening – and likely to happen – in the American economy than their own.

They also have a huge superficial knowledge of what’s been happening in lots of economies in the past few weeks. They know inflation has shot up in the US, Britain and a few other countries, wages have increased somewhat in the US and a few other places, and some minor central banks have started raising their official interest rates.

I think these guys’ mental model of what’s driving interest rates is no more profound than this: prices and wages are rising in the US and other places, rates are already rising around the world, so pretty soon rates will be rising here.

Lowe, the man with his hand on the lever, says he still doesn’t think a rate rise will be needed until 2024, but last week he admitted things could turn out stronger than he expects and make a rise necessary in 2023.

There you are. He’s as good as admitted he’ll have no choice but to start raising rates in a few months’ time. Anyway, that’s what we’re betting on. If we turn out to be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time, and we won’t lose our jobs. We’ll just lay new bets and keep doing it until we’re right.

Which they will be – one day. Since rates can’t go lower it’s a cert that the next move will be up. Right now, when they’ll be going up is known only to God. In the absence of inside intel, I’d rather put my money on Lowe than on those geniuses.


Friday, November 5, 2021

Masterpiece: the spin is Morrison's plan to reach net zero is dizzying

The more our politicians are full of bulldust – known euphemistically as “spin” – the more they rely on our short attention span. They make a grand announcement that doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but the media caravan moves on before it’s had time for a closer look. Well, not this time.

I’ve been looking more closely at the Plan to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 that Scott Morrison unveiled last week, shortly before jetting off to Glasgow.

It’s full of . . . hyperbole. A masterpiece of the spin doctor’s art. A document carefully crafted to mislead.

For someone claiming to have a Plan to achieve a difficult objective over the next 29 years, it was surprising to see Morrison claiming the Plan contained no new policy measures. By implication, no additional cost to taxpayers.

That’s true – and untrue. We know, for instance, that Morrison had to promise to spend a lot of money just to get the National Party’s permission to commit to achieving net zero by 2050.

So, what policy promises did Morrison make, and how much will they cost? We weren’t told. They weren’t mentioned in the 130-page plan. We’re told we’ll be told sometime before the election.

The Plan says Morrison’s “technology investment roadmap” will “guide” more than $20 billion of government investment in low emissions technology to 2030. So, further spending of $20 billion?

If that’s what you thought, the spin merchants would be pleased. They love giving the impression we can have our cake and eat it. But no, this is not new policy. All the $20 billion has already been announced.

And much of it has already been spent. Much of it by the previous Labor government. A bit over half of it is spending by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

These were set up by the evil Julia Gillard in 2011, in association with her job-destroying and cost-of-living killing carbon tax. Tony Abbott tried to abolish them along with the tax, but failed.

Now they’re produced as evidence of how much the Morrison government’s doing to promote new emissions-reducing technology.

The Plan claims the government’s $20 billion will “leverage” more than $80 billion from government and the private sector by 2030. (What it doesn’t mention is that Australia’s total spending on research and development has plummeted since the Coalition returned to power in 2013.)

As to whether the Plan commits the government to spending a lot more, note that the modelling showing we can get to net zero by 2050 rests on various assumptions about the success of future new technology in producing clean products at specified low costs.

For instance, clean hydrogen will be produced for under $2 a kilogram. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels will be captured and stored at a cost of less than $20 a tonne.

But these happy assumptions come with an asterisk. The asterisk leads to very fine print saying “subject to offtake agreements”.

Oh yes, what are they? The Plan doesn’t say. But they’re the government agreeing to buy loads of the clean product at a price that allows the real customers to pay a very low price. That is, it’s a massive subsidy.

How much will the government buy? At what price? Morrison couldn’t tell us if he wanted to because these deals are way off in the future – if they ever happen. They’re not a new policy to spend taxpayers’ money, they’re just an assumption the modellers needed to make - that the necessary money would be spent - to achieve their prediction that we’d get to net zero by 2050.

You’ve noticed that the Coalition which, ever since Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal opposition leader in 2009, has been vigorously opposed to doing anything much to reduce emissions, has now embraced the net zero target.

But have you noticed that now he’s big on reducing emissions, Morrison is quietly rewriting history to remove any trace of that former opposition? Worse, have you noticed Morrison is now taking credit for any progress we’ve made to date?

Any progress made by the policies of his evil Labor opponents and – as with the pandemic – any progress owed to the policies of those appalling premiers?

This is why politicians have spin doctors. “Our Plan will continue the policies and initiatives that we have already put in place and that have proven to be successful, reducing emissions and energy costs,” some spinner wrote.

Next, Morrison’s claim that Australia’s on track to reduce emissions by “up to” 35 per cent by 2030, well above the government’s target of 26 to 28 per cent. Independent analysis commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation confirms this is quite believable.

But, apparently, it’s all the Morrison government’s doing. He speaks of “our record of reducing emissions and achieving our targets” and “our strong track record, with emissions already more than 20 per cent lower”. “We have already achieved 20 per cent,” his energy minister says.

But Bill Hare, of Climate Analytics, says the feds are doing little, but claiming credit from the hard work of the states and territories.

It was the NSW and Queensland governments that saved most of the 20 per cent by restricting land clearing. It’s the states that encouraged the record rollout of rooftop solar and large-scale renewables.

NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia have strong electric vehicle policies. Meanwhile, Morrison & Co have been encouraging gas production with new subsidies – which, of course, won’t be paid for by increasing your taxes.

Spin is claiming credit for any good thing, but blaming others for anything bad. You’ve heard that the Plan “will not cost jobs, not in farming, mining or gas”.

But the actual promise says that “not one job will be lost as a result of the government’s actions or policies under the Plan”.

Get it? Jobs will be lost, but we’ve set it up so no one will be able to blame us.


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Net zero can't be reached by magic, but we can ease the pain

Scott Morrison’s long-term plan for net zero emissions by 2050 won’t impress anyone who’s been following Australia’s long and tortuous battle over climate change. But then, it’s not intended to.

His “learning” after miraculously wining the unwinnable election in 2019 is that whatever half-truths he tells voters will be believed by enough of them. Particularly since God is on his side, not the side of those other, untruthful and ungodly people.

No, his Plan – which is not a plan to achieve net zero, just an optimistic forecast that it will be achieved – is largely a political document, intended to be sufficient to convince those voters who aren’t paying attention that he’s “doing more” to cope with climate change.

His goal is not so much to fix the climate as to neutralise it as an issue at next year’s election. Climate change is an issue that naturally favours Labor. He wants all the focus to be on two issues that naturally favour the Coalition: the economy and national security.

He was walking a tightrope last week. He had to discourage voters in Liberal heartland seats who were worried about global warming from trying to send their party a message by voting for liberal independents – as they’ve done in Tony Abbott’s former seat and, briefly, Malcolm Turnbull’s – by convincing them he was serious about reducing emissions.

At the same time, however, he needed to reassure voters in the National Party’s various Queensland coal-mining seats that he wasn’t serious.

His solution was to produce a document that says: the boffins I hired assure me we’re on track to eliminate net emissions by 2050 but, don’t worry, this will be achieved by the miracle of new technology, without anyone feeling a thing.

There’ll be no new taxes, no new regulations forcing people to do things and no new costs on households, businesses or regions. We won’t shut down coal and gas production, and no jobs will be lost.

Does it sound a bit too good to be true? Voters in the Liberal heartland tend to be well educated and well informed. I doubt it will do the trick.

As we’ve seen with the pandemic, when our federal leaders fail to lead, others feel a need to fill the vacuum. The premiers, of course, but also many people from business and the community.

The latest report from Tony Wood and colleagues at the Grattan Institute, Towards net zero: a practical plan, offers a more realistic assessment of the challenge we face, says why we must get more achieved by 2030 and proposes ways this can be done without too much pain.

Perhaps because he’s not standing for office, Wood is frank about the difficulty in getting to net zero. The scale and pace of change involved in a net-zero target are “daunting, but they are outweighed by the consequences of the alternative.

“Factors outside Australia’s control will shape the flow of capital and the demand for our exports, while climate change itself will increasingly threaten Australians’ lives and livelihoods.”

Just so. Only a fool would believe we can avoid pain by doing nothing. We can seek to delay the pain, but that would relinquish our ability to influence our future, as well as making the pain greater.

The longer we leave it to make big progress towards net zero, the more pain we ultimately suffer. But also, our failure to throw our support behind the global push for earlier progress – which is what we’re failing to do in Glasgow this week – increases the risk that the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees will be exceeded by the end of this decade, making it less likely we ever get back below it.

But while it’s foolish to think we can avoid pain, we shouldn’t imagine the pain will be intolerable. And here’s the trick: provided it’s done sensibly, paying a bit more tax and putting up with a bit more regulation is actually intended to reduce the amount of pain, and share it more fairly.

Wood accepts Morrison’s figuring showing that we’re likely to exceed the 26 to 28 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 we promised to make in 2015. But we’ll still fall short of the 45 to 50 per cent reduction we’re being asked to make and other rich countries are agreeing to.

Wood’s plan for getting up to the higher target is neither heroic nor frightening. While we wait for the technological breakthroughs Morrison’s modelling assumes will come, we should get on with applying the technology we already have.

Generate electricity almost completely from renewables, and step up the move to electric cars and vans by tightening emission standards for petrol-driven cars, giving EVs tax breaks and supporting the spread of charging stations.

This is the first step towards the new green manufacturing industries that will provide the regional jobs for miners and gas workers to move to as other countries stop buying our coal and gas.

It won’t be easy or painless, but it’s not beyond the wit of decent governments.